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foundations of prosperity and union, under the power's which Congress may already possess, or such amendment of the constitution as may be approved by the states ? While uncertain of the course of things, the time may be advantageously employed in obtaining the powers necessary for a system of improvement, should that be thought best.
Availing myself of this, the last occasion which will occur of addressing the two houses of the legislature at their meeting, I cannot omit the expression of my sincere gratitude, for the repeated proofs of confidence manifested to me by themselves and their predecessors since my call to the administration, and the many indulgences ex. perienced at their hands. The same grateful acknowledg. ments are due to my fellow citizens generally, whose support has been my great encouragement under all embarrassments. In the transaction of their business I cannot have escaped errour. It is incident to our imperfect nature. But I may say with truth my errours have been of the understanding, not of intention, and that the advancement of their rights and interests has been the constant motives for every measure. On these considerations I solicit their indulgence. Looking forward with anxiety to their future destinies, I trust that in their steady character, unshaken by difficulties, in their love of liberty, obedience to law, and support of the publick authorities, I see a sure guaranty of the permanence of our republick; and retiring from the charge of their affairs, I carry with me the consolation of a firm persuasion, that Heaven has in store for our beloved country, long ages to come of prosperity and happiness.
ACCOMPANYING THE MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT OF THỂ
UNITED STATES. NOVEMBER 8, 1808. Mr. Madison, Secretary of State, to General Armstrong,
Minister Plenipotentiary of the U. States at Paris.
Department of State, May 22, 1807. “ The two last letters received from you were of De.cember 24 and January 16.
" The decree of November 21, communicated in the first, had previously reached us, and had excited apprehensions which were repressed only by the inarticulate import of its articles, and the presumption that it would be executed in a sense not inconsistent with the respect due the treaty between France and the United States. The explanations given you by the minister of marine were seen by the President with much pleasure, and it only remains to learn that they have been confirmed by the express authority of the emperor. We are the more anxious for this information, as it will fortify the remonstrances which have been presented at London against the British order of January 7th. Should it, contrary to expectation, turn out that the French decree was meant, and is to operate according to the latitude of its terms, you will of course have made the proper representations, grounded as well on the principles of publick law, as on the express stipulations of the convention of 1800. Nothing, besides, could be more preposterous than to blend with an appeal to neutral rights and neutral nations, a gross infraction of the former, and outrage on the sentiments of the latter; unless it be to invite a species of contest on the high seas, in which the adversary has every possible advantage. But on the more probable supposition that the decree will not be unfavourably expounded, it will be still necessary to press on the French government a despatch of such orders to their cruisers, in every quarter, as will prevent a construction of the decree favourable to their licentious cupidity. The moment your letter was received, the answer of the French minister of marine to your note was communicated to general Turreau, with a call on him to transmit it immediately to the French governours in the West Indies. This he readily engaged to do. But notwithstanding this precaution, there are proofs that the West India privateers have, under colour of the edict, committed depredations which will constitute just claims of redress from their government.
“Mr. Erving has forwarded a Spanish decree also, avowedly pursuing the example and the views of the French emperor. The terms of this decree are even more vague, or rather more broad, than those of the prototype ; and if not speedily recalled or corrected, will doubtless extend the scene of spoliations already begun in that quar. ter, and of course thicken the cloud that bangs over the amity of the two nations."
Extract of a Letter from Mr. Madison to Gen. Armstrong.
Department of State, Feb. 8th, 1808. “ Your letters and communications by doctor Bullus were duly delivered on the fourteenth day of December. The same conveyance brought a copy of the sentence pronounced by the French prize court in the case of the Horizon, giving a judicial effect to the decree of November 21, 1806, as expounded in the answer of M. Champagny to your letter of the 12th November, 1807.
Whilst the French government did not avow or enforce a meaning of the decree of November, 1806, in relation to the United States, extending its purview beyond the municipal limits, it could not in strictness be regarded as an infraction either of our neutral or conventional rights; and consequently did not authorize more than a demand of seasonable explanations of its doubtful import, or friendly expostulations with respect to the rigour and suddenness of its innovations.
The case is now essentially changed. A construction of the decree is avowed and executed, which violates as well the positive stipulations of the convention of September 30th, 1800, as the incontestable principles of publick law; and the President charges you to superadd to what
ever representations you may have previously made, a formal remonstrance in such terms as may be best calculated either to obtain a recall of the illegal measure, so far as it relates to the United States, or to have the effect of leaving in full force all the rights accruing to them from a failure to do so.
That the execution of local laws against foreign nations on the high seas, is a violation of the rights of the former and the freedom of the latter, will probably not be questioned. A contrary principle would in fact imply the same exclusive dominion over the entire ocean as is enjoyed within the limits of the local sovereignty, and a degradation of every other nation from its common rights and equal rank.
If it be contended that the decree, as a retaliation on the other belligerent, at the expense of neutral nations, is justified by a culpable acquiescence in the prior measures of that belligerent, operating through neutrals, you will be able to deny such acquiescence, and to urge moreover that, on every supposition, the retaliating measure could not be justly enforced in relation to neutrals, without allowing them at least a reasonable time for choosing between due measures against the prior wrong and an acquiescense in both. The copy of the representations to the British government through its minister here, on the subject of its orders of January, 1807, will at once disprove an acquiescence on the part of the United States, and explain the grounds on which the late extension of the French decree of November, 1806, is an object of just remonstrance.
The conduct of the French government in giving this extended operation to its decree, and indeed in issuing one with such an apparent or doubtful import against the rights of the sea, is the more extraordinary, inasmuch as the inability to enforce it on that element exhibited the measure in the light of an empty menace, at the same time that it afforded pretexts to her cnemy for severe retaliations, for which ample means are found in her naval superiority.
The accumulated dangers, to which the illegal proceed. ings of the belligerent nations have subjected the commerce and navigation of the United States, have at length induced Congress to resort to an embargo on our own ves
sels, as a measure best fitted for the crisis ; being an effectual security for our mercantile property and mariners now at home and daily arriving, and at the same time neither a measure nor just cause of war. Copies of this act were soon after its passage transmitted to Mr. Pinkney, with an authority to assure the British government that it was to be viewed in this light; and that it was not meant to be the slightest impediment to amicable negotiations with foreign governments. He was requested to avail himself of an opportunity of communicating to you and Mr. Erving this view of the subject, and I hope that you will have been thence enabled to present it to the French government. Not relying however on that indirect opportunity, I send by this another copy of the act, with an instruction from the President, that you make it the subject of such explanations as will guard against any misconception of the policy which led to it. It is strictly a measure of precaution required by the dangers incident to external commerce, and being indiscriminate in its terms and operation towards all nations, can give no just offence to any. The duration of the act is not fixed by itself; and will consequently depend on a conti. nuance or cessation of its causes in a degree sufficient in the judgment of the legislature to induce or forbid its repeal. It may be hoped that the inconveniences felt from it by the belligerent nations, may lead to a change of the conduct which imposed the inconveniences of it on our selves. France herself will be a sufferer, and some of her allies far more so. It will be very agreeable to find in that consideration, and still more in her sense of justice, a sufficient motive to an early manifestation of the respect due to our commercial rights. The example would be worthy of the professions which she makes to the world on this subject.
"FEB. 18. Since the above was written, I have been under a degree of indisposition, which has suspended the proposed continuation of it, and which now will oblige me to be very brief; the more so, as the vessel has been some days detained, which was engaged for the special purpose of conveying publick despatches and private letters to Europe.
" The delay has enabled me lo inform you, that Mr. Erskine, a few days ago, communicated by instructions